Camera Buying Guide - Get the Most out of Your Money
Jargon and useless technical information are used as a sales and marketing tactic. What will actually make you happy is usually far removed from what someone wants to sell you.
Buying a camera doesn’t need to be difficult. You just need to know a few basics for the types of photography you want to do.
For digital cameras, it’s impossible to make a bad choice. Any camera made after 2012 is still capable of taking stunning photos. Any camera made after 2018 will be overkill for video.
Regardless of the price point or need, there will always be a better camera. Getting experience will allow you to decide what “better” actually is.
Choosing a budget will help narrow down the camera models to choose from. Make sure to leave room for at least one lens.
Kit lenses aren’t the best at any type of photography and they don’t provide a shallow depth of field. You can get sharper and better looking images by investing in a higher quality lens.
This could be a inexpensive “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8 prime lens or a professional f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens. The importance is checking to make sure you have options for the types of photography you want to do and is within your budget.
- Best Cameras Under $1,000
- Best Cameras Under $300
- Best Used DSLR Under $100
- Best Used DSLRs Under $200
The greatest mistake people make is overlooking the imporance of the size and weight of the camera that they buy. Full Frame mirrorless or DSLR cameras are often large and heavy, before you take the lens into account.
The bigger the camera, the less likely you’ll be willing to lug it around with you. For travel, street, day to day photography, celebrations, and holidays, smaller cameras win out.
Lens selection is more important than the camera body.
It doesn’t matter how new or expensive a camera is. You can’t blur a background and create bokeh with a bundled kit zoom lens.
A DSLR from 2012 and an 85mm f/1.4 lens from a dead mount (Nikon F or Canon EF) is going to take better portraits than a new mirrorless camera with a slow f/4.5-6.3 zoom lens.
Physics dictates depth of field. A telephoto prime with a larger aperture (smaller f number) is going to create a shallower depth of field. This will blur the background, which will help to isolate the subject.
These are two types of photography where having a long focal length is essential.
Telephoto prime lenses are some of the most expensive lenses that can be purchased. Super telephoto zoom lenses are less expensive. (But still expensive!)
The least expensive way to get a lens with long enough reach to fill the frame with a subject is:
- A bridge cameras like the Nikon P1000 or Panasonic FZ80.
- A Micro Four Thirds camera with a Panasonic 100-300mm f4-5.6 II or Olympus 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II lens.
These are the types of things that kit zooms were designed for. Something like an 18-55mm lens for APS-C cameras, 14-42mm for Micro Four Thirds, or 24-70mm/105mm/120mm for a full frame camera.
Prime lenses that are good for this type of photography are 50mm f/1.8 or 28mm f/2.8 (or equivallent) lenses. They are some of the least expensive prime lenses, which is great if you have a film camera.
The advantage primes have over zooms is the ability to create a shallow depth of field (blurry background).
Primes are also “faster” in that they let more light reach the camera sensor (or film plane). This is advantageous for shooting in low light, like indoors or outside in shadows.
These types of photography are generally associated with wide angle lenses as they give a large field of view. This makes it easier to capture a landscape, interior, or building.
A wide angle zoom or prime will work equally well. Having a shallow depth of field usually isn’t very important because generally you want to show the entire subject in focus.
Astrophotography differs in that a fast lens (small f/#) is a better choice. It will also pay off to make sure the lens is well corrected for coma. Comatic aberration (coma) will make stars appear like they have tails.